Has President Carter's plan to reform bureaucratic Washington's driving habits backfired?
Is the system designed to force civil servants into buses or carpools being short-circuited by U.S. aides who cannot, or will not, change individual driving habits and will not pay to park?
Have new federal parking fees resulted in shouting matches, and fist-fights, between homeowners anxious to protect their territoritial curb rights against "invading" federal parker? It appears that way!
Since the president ordered federal workers to begin paying for parking, the number of cars in government lots has dropped 20 percent in some areas. Thousands of Washington area feds have begun parking on residential streets, or in shopping centers, to avoid parking fees that average -- in the suburbs -- about $12 month.
Although most say it is too early to tell, some federal officials believe that rather than dicouraging the number of cars on the road, the free parking ban has actually increased the number of people driving to work. In some cases car pools that once got free spaces have broken up because of paid parking. Ex-members of pools now drive their own cars and seek out free spots on the streets or shopping centers.
One caller said he knew he wasn't saving any money driving to work but "I'm dammed if I'll pay for something that should be free. The government had an agreement with us, and it has broken it." He said he now parks in a shopping center in Bethesda -- near the "pay" federal lot -- and walks to work.
A spot check of shopping centers in Northern Virginia, Bethesda and Prince George's County indicates many cars -- with federal parking stickers -- now regularly park all day. Workers either walk to work, take buses or meet carpools.
Parking lots at the Defense Mapping Agency in Bethesda that were once crowded now have many vacant spaces. Officials say some workers are using up vacation time at years end, but saying parking is "much lighter" than is normal for December. And at a nearby shopping center, and in residential areas, there is an influx of day-long parkers, or D.C. or Virginia tags, indicating they are commuter parkers.
At the National Institutes of Health in suburban Maryland, only 6,000 of the 8,200 spaces have been sold this month. NH officials say that about 150 people get free parking -- because of shift work. The remainder are unused, either because people are away on holidays or, more likely, because they have found other places to park.
A person in one Maryland neighborhood who refused to give his name (for good reason) said people had been letting air out of tires of cars parked in front of their houses. Some agencies say there have been complaints from workers of tires being slashed, windows soaped and notes left on windshields warning people not to park there again.
Now that pay parking has arrived there are many vacant spots at an HEW lot in Bethesda that was once jam-packed. Bus service to the building is poor, and it became a hotbed of resistance to the pay-parking plan. Workers even picketed the White House to no avail. Now many simply park at the far end of a parking lot that shares its free spaces for customers with HEW, which charges employes $12 per month. Shopping center customers cannot use the federal spaces without risking a ticket.
Some federal parkers have become defensive about residents who cuss, or take a poke at them, or deflate their tires. There is this sign on an "outsider's car that regularly takes up a Bethesda shopping center free space:
"If You Value Your A -- As much As I Value This Car, Leave It Alone! I AM WATCHING AND I WILL GET REVENGE."